Emotional Chris Webber finally gets his place in the Michigan Sports HOF

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Chris Webber waited a long time to enter the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame — depending on your perspective, based on Webber's past, it was either too long or not long enough.

In his speech before a sold-out crowd of nearly 400 at MotorCity Casino on Saturday night, Webber, the kingpin of the Fab Five whose association to the school long was checkered — and even severed — because of his ties to boosters, let all his emotions hang out.

Chris Webber gets inducted into the 2022 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame by President Jordan Field, left, and Chairman Scott Lesher, right.

Webber was the lone inductee given a speaking slot — everyone else was part of a roundtable — because he had a lot to say as the headliner of the MSHOF's Class of 2022.

Webber, a Detroit native, was inducted into the nation's oldest state Hall of Fame in his fourth try on the ballot; his basketball resume alone would've made him a slam-dunk first-ballot selection, as arguably the second-best basketball player to come from the state of Michigan, behind only Lansing's Magic Johnson.

"It's an honor. Growing up in Michigan, you grow to have bigger dreams, but your biggest dreams in the beginning are having an influence in your home and where you're from," Webber said before his 14-minute speech. "And to be recognized by those where you're from is the biggest blessing you can ask for. 

"I'm very excited and humbled right now."

Webber, 49, played 16 seasons in the NBA after leaving Michigan, and in 2021, he entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

In his speech, he called the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame a bigger honor, as he thanked many people, including family, friends, former teammates and former coaches, many of whom were in the crowd — including his coach at Detroit Country Day Kurt Keener, who also coached fellow inductee Shane Battier.

Webber is the second member of the Fab Five to enter the MSHOF, after Jalen Rose, who taped a congratulatory message. Juwan Howard, Michigan's current head coach, also sent along an emotional tape.

"My brother, I'm so happy for you, bro," Howard said. "Well-deserved honor for you because I know, and many others who know you know the work you put in.

"All the hard work, sweat and tears that you put into the game of basketball has been inspiring for me and others. Proud of you, bro."

Webber told stories about the pressures he faced growing up in Detroit, as a 12-year-basketball prodigy. Even then, college coaches were after him hard. He told of the sob stories coaches would tell him if he didn't sign with them. Webber went on to star at Detroit Country Day, and was Mr. Basketball in Michigan in 1991. He headlined a star-studded recruiting class at Michigan, which came to be known as the "Fab Five."

He was Big Ten freshman of the year in 1992 and a consensus All-American in 1993, leading the Wolverines to back-to-back championship games. Michigan lost both, the second marred by the infamous timeout that Webber called — and that Michigan didn't have. Webber touched on that in his speech, too, and credited father Mayce with helping him get through all the fallout — and there was a whole lot of it — from that moment. (Dad, bringing levity to the situation, apparently had a license plate that read: TIMEOUT).

Webber left Michigan after two seasons and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, by the Orlando Magic. Webber played for five NBA teams, most notably Washington and Sacramento. He played briefly for the Pistons in 2007, retired in 2008 and became a broadcaster.

"I went to school through you," Webber said of George Blaha, the long-time voice of the Pistons and Michigan State football, and now a fellow MSHOF member.

"So many of these guys that I admire," Webber continued, "I'm glad that when all is said and done, those that I admire, I'm with them in a conversation about Michigan, and it's pretty cool."

Webber headlined a very Wolverine-heavy Michigan Sports Hall of Fame class, which included former basketball coach John Beilein, softball legend Jennie Ritter and ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis. Others in the class included Battier, Red Wings broadcaster Mickey Redmond, NFL legend Antonio Gates, former Pistons great Chauncey Billups and former Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard.

Billups and Battier were being inducted as part of the Class of 2020. They couldn't make last year's ceremony, and Billups, now head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, couldn't attend Saturday, either.

Gates, who now works for the L.A. Chargers front office, also couldn't attend. Both Billups and Gates sent pre-recorded messages accepting their honors.

Webber was the last honoree to arrive for Saturday night's ceremony — in attendance were such dignitaries as Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, Pistons coach Dwane Casey, retired Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins, retired Michigan football broadcaster Jim Brandstatter and boxing legend Thomas "Hitman" Hearns — and he was more than worth the wait.

"Please continue to love," said Webber, who was disassociated from Michigan for 10 years because of the Ed Martin scandal. "You don't know how much love matters.

"I love you, and thank you."

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984